Settling in at university - the best years of your life

The first few weeks of University can be a nightmare. You can easily feel homesick, tired, and already stressed after the first week of lectures.

Settling in requires a bit of time and dedication but that’s why I’m writing this article. I just started second year this September so I know how it feels to ask yourself questions such as: 'I’ve been waiting for this for months - why am I not enjoying university?', 'why haven’t I made any friends yet?', 'was it worth moving away from my family and friends?'. I can assure you, it is 100% worth it. This guide is made for the people that are still doubtful that university is the right path for them. I hope this helps!

First of all, make your new city your home. Explore, go shopping in the city centre, find places you’d want to visit again and also register to facilities you had back home: library, doctor, dentist, sexual health clinic, therapy or counselling. Get club cards for all your favourite shops and cafes even though your mum might have them already: as a student, you’ll get even better discounts. You will want to go to those places, and it will make you feel great because they have a certain connection with home. If you’re studying abroad, try and find new places that remind you of your home country. Get out, go for a walk, familiarise yourself with where you now live. Find little cafés or shops that you want to visit and bring a flatmate or new friend!

Once you arrive at university you may feel overwhelmed with the experience and what the university has to offer. Make sure you start doing the things you like straight away. Are you a gym bunny? Keep it up and maybe join a sports society. Are you a party animal? Maybe slow it down a tiny bit, but you’re definitely not going to enjoy staying in all the time so you might as well treat yourself to some fun. Do you love reading or doing theatre? Join a society related to that. Whatever your thing is, do it now and don’t expect to focus only on lectures and work, because university is also about having fun and enjoying your new independent life. It’s easier to keep up with the work if you’re spending your free time doing things that you truly enjoy. Also, staying active will make you feel less stressed and more motivated. The thing is, you don’t want to keep postponing it to the point where you realise it’s February and you haven’t been involved in much yet. So take part! Join a society!

You could be living at home, in halls or in a flat with other students. Either way, talk to your flatmates and course mates. Even more, talk and socialise no matter what. It could be just small talk with someone you might never speak to again, but it is still good to experience talking to different kinds of people. Even if the first impression doesn’t inspire a friendship with someone, try and get to know them and their point of view and then decide if they really are or are not your kind of people. And who knows, you might just make a life-long friendship that started off with some random conversation. Remember, everyone is in the same boat, it might even make their day that you came up to say ‘hello’. Nothing bad could happen and it will increase your chance of finding lovely friends.

At the same time, don’t stress out if at the third week of university everyone seems settled in their own huge groups of friends. They probably have met during fresher’s week and clicked straight away, but who knows if they’ll still be like that in a few months. Anyway, you’ll find your own crowd at some point. They could be sitting at the chess society, in the student union committee, in the library working on a project that you have as well or in the club that you’ll start going to at the end of October. Last advice on this: don’t stick with people that come from you hometown or home country because it gives you some sort of comfort. It will limit your chances of making true friends who don’t have origin as the only thing in common with you.

Take care of yourself. By this, I mean that you should try and cook most of your meals. What I did in first year was relying heavily on meal deals and frozen food and I have to say that even though it was very easy and quick it didn’t make me feel that healthy. If you think you can’t cook, just do it anyway. As you get more and more into your cooking, your ability to cook will increase. Obviously this doesn’t imply making quiche lorraine avec pate feuilleté, even a simple pasta pesto can do the trick. It can seem like a lot of effort at the time, but it could make a big difference to your health and happiness especially because life at University is not known for being particularly healthy (lack of sleep and erratic eating habits). Also important, keep yourself and your stuff clean. Neglecting this can make you feel overall unmotivated and lazy. There’s no need to tidy everyday but don’t allow clutter to become the main character in your room. Remember: clean space, clean mind.

Go to your lectures as much as you can, but go only if you know you’re actually going to pay attention and try to understand and learn. There is no point in trekking to a lecture if you’re going to sit there and potentially sleep. At the same time, don’t think skipping lectures is cool. You’ll have to catch up with them at some point if you don’t want to fail your exams so it’s completely ok to have days off but it’s not when they turn into months off. In the end the main reason you’re at university is to learn.

Onto more social topics, don’t ignore all events that don’t involve going out/drinking. Maybe your union is doing a movie night for Halloween or the café next door has a poetry reading afternoon with free biscuits…why not go? You could have fun even if you think you couldn’t and don’t know anyone there.

Last but not least, remind yourself of the reasons why you decided to go to University. Maybe you wanted to learn everything about your subject, maybe you wanted to go more for the social part of it, maybe you hoped to find people similar to you or maybe you just went because other people pushed you to. Whatever the reason is, tell yourself it is worth it. If you find yourself in a very difficult position or mind set, seek help. Around campus there will be facilities and services that will be happy to offer you their help and advice.

Finally, enjoy yourself! Sometimes you will have bad days or do things you regret and think it’s the end of the world – but it’s not. Everything you do and experience will only build your character, and ultimately you will feel proud of the person you have become.

Have a good year!

Portrait of Linda Arrighi

Linda Arrighi

Neuroscience, University of Glasgow